Friday, February 22, 2013

Snowshoeing Montagne d'Argent in La Conception, Quebec, Canada: It' ain't boring!


There is too much to say and too many pictures to tell the story of this cool snowshoeing and rock-and ice climbing destination.

But here's a hint. I like it. It has made the snowshoeing trails in Quebec's Gatineau Park, and the National Capital Region of Canada seem so boring and tame.

Montagne d'Argent (10 minutes north of Mont Tremblant off Hwy 117) is part of the Laurentians (French: Laurentides), an awesomely beautiful mountain range in southern Quebec, Canada, north of the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa River. So, it's not really fair to compare flat forest trails and hills to mountains. But your mind will do it anyway!

They say Montagne d'Argent (Silver Mountain) is a jewel, discovered and developed for outdoor recreation by climbers. I'll agree. It's a jewel.

If you're bored to death of those tromped down walk-in-the park snowshoe trails you find in so many urban areas, you may want to give Montagne d'Argent a try for a great mountain snowshoe.

Here are a few highlights . . . 

Get ready to glissade. Dodge trees. Grab onto a few mountaineering ropes tied to trees in steep spots. All at the same time!
Gaze at ice walls along the way – you won't be climbing them in snowshoes!
More rope!
Watch the ice climbers.
More rope!
Look out at the world around you.
Did I mention rope!
Be impressed with how small you are.

Learn how to negotiate this snow-covered obstacle.
And my favourite obstacle of all, figuring out how to get into (and out of) the old hammock at basecamp that never seems to be occupied in winter.
There's lots of fresh snow up here in the Mont Tremblant region, and more on the way! This destination is best with lots of snow! Avoid it in icy and melt conditions.

Enjoy snowshoeing and hiking the hidden trails and enchanted forest of Montagne d'Argent, La Conception, Quebec, Canada.

For more information about Montagne d'Argent

Parc d'Escalade de la Montagne d'Argent (their website is only in French)
Location: Route de la Montagne d'Argent, La Conception, Quebec. It's about 10 minutes north of Mont Tremblant and Ste. Jovite, Quebec off Hwy 117

Happy trails!
The BaffinPaddler

Monday, February 11, 2013

Are you feeling Quinzee?

A few snowshoe buddies and I came across an odd, deserted winter camp in Gatineau Park over the weekend, which was blessed with perfect winter weather - fresh snow, sunshine, and cold. And finally, no rain or freezing rain!

"It looks like Armageddon! What happened here?"
 A few snow-entrenched fire pits smoked.

There were odd rows of six foot long trenches in the snow, 4 or 5 big snow domes with sticks and small shovels poking out of them, and camping gear strewn about.
"Hey, anybody in there!?" There was no answer. All the winter campers were off playing in the woods somewhere.

"What the heck are these man-made things?"

Then, I remembered a group of 10 snowshoers with heavily-loaded backpacks and shovels that we crossed paths with as we headed out and up a trail for a day snowshoe around Lac Philippe. They were heading back from a winter camping trip. All were smiling.

I asked, "Are you happy to be getting out of here and back to civilization?"

One smiled even larger and said, "I don't know. Might miss the quinzees!"

Why do people build these snow shelters called quinzees? Why do they like it? Why do they miss their quinzees when they leave? The only answer I can come up with is . . . it must be fun?
What is a quinzee?

A quinzee (or quinzhee) looks like an igloo, but instead of being made out of blocks of hard snow or ice, a quinzee is a snow shelter made by hollowing out a big pile of packed-down shoveled snow. They look like snow domes.

Quinzees take a few hours to build. That's probably why people like to do this activity in groups. And it's hard work. Bring lots of big, strong friends who like to shovel snow for hours.

It's hard for me to believe you can actually stay warm when camping in the winter inside a quinzee. But it would seem to be warmer and more insulated from the cold and wind than a tent.

Here’s how they build quinzees.

With shovels and snow and sticks!
  • The hard working campers pile a bunch of snow into a mound seven to eight feet high, hoping that it will be big enough to hold about two people once it is hollowed out. You wouldn't want to get lonely in there. Hopefully, one of the industrious builders will invite you in, because you just sat around and watched them toil.
  • You have to mix up the snow when you pile it into a big mound to mix snow of varying temperatures, otherwise it won't harden, or sinter.
  • Then start packing it down and shaping that big mound of snow into a dome and let it harden for a couple of hours.
  • Dig a small doorway on the downhill side.
  • Next hollow out the mound from the top down.
  • Smooth out the walls and ceiling.
  • Walls should be one to two feet thick.
I was wondering why there were sticks, poking out of the quinzees. I thought they were air holes, but they are measuring sticks, so you know to stop hollowing out the inside when you see the ends of the sticks.

A small ventilation hole is dug out near the top of the quinzee. You wouldn't want things to get too steamy in there.

You need to mark the entrance of the quinzee in case it gets covered with fresh snowfall while you are away. "Hey honey, do you remember where we put the door?!"

Sleep with a small shovel (or two) inside in case you need to dig yourself out! Isn't that obvious? Bring lots of extra shovels and leave them around your quinzee so friends can dig you out if you didn't build it right!

Cross your fingers that you don't get rain or freezing rain while you sleep. Keep track of the weather conditions. You need optimal conditions to "Get Quinzee!"

And here's a new thing I learned, burying your water jugs in a snowdrift insulates the water and keeps it from freezing. Or, it should . . .

Are you feeling quinzee?

Let the sun shine on your quinzee building. The full sun just ain't no good for shooting winter scenes. Or is it . . . ?

Happy trails.
The BaffinPaddler

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Are you running from ice or looking for it? Montagne d'Argent Ice Climbers

While most of us turn back on steep mountain snowshoe trails covered in ice and slippery rock after last week's big melt with lots of rain, freezing rain, and then sudden freeze (and rightly so to turn back), the ice climbers are out in force at Montagne d'Argent (Parc d'Escalade et de Randonnée de la Montagne d'Argent), in La Conception, Quebec, Canada, 10 minutes north of Tremblant.
They like ice!  It's ice pic and crampon weather. And the climbers are well-equipped with helmets, harnesses, and ropes. There's natural ice and man-made ice to climb at this internationally known climbing mountain.

I'll never understand why they do this, but it's interesting to watch.
  
Montagne d'Argent is also a great snowshoe spot when there's lots of snow, especially if you like a bit of a challenge and to hang onto a few ropes tied to trees as you make your way up and down some of the steeper trails. Timing is everything. Later, I'll post about the awesome snow-filled trek I had here when there was 60 centimetres of snow and fresh powder to get lost in.
Happy trails.
The BaffinPaddler